Last night a group of friends and I organized and hosted an event as part of SF Design Week for the Product Of SFO community. I host the community as a fortnightly, intimate and casual coffee gathering as a way to meet and talk about Product Design with likeminded passionate individuals, the same way that I did when I was a member of Product Of SYD back in Sydney, Australia. I absolutely love the format and have made some incredible friends here in California because of it.

When the opportunity arose to submit the meetup as a part of SF Design week, initially it seemed silly and far fetched. My friend Michael reached out and we discussed the possibilities of participating and there were far more unknowns and expectations than anything else. Our window to decide and submit our proposal was very small, so we impulsively decided on a whim to take the risk, go all in and put our best foot forward. I pieced together a very rough event description one weekend, and Michael whipped up the branding. We submitted and as fast as we had decided to submit, we were accepted to host our first ever event during SF Design Week in June of 2018.

Having been accepted to host the event, it was now our job to find speakers, organize a venue, catering, a topic, slides, ticketing and so much more in very little time. I reached out to the most talented people that I know in the design industry, and was able to find amazing speakers both at Google, Airbnb and Mozilla in a heartbeat. We convinced Mozilla to kindly contribute their event space, catering and time to help us with a lot of the overhead that went into the event.

We carefully formulated a topic to rally our speakers around – Design Systems and shaping their impact on users on every platform, around the world and with varying levels of physical ability. We called it “Design Systems – Designing for Everything, Everywhere and Everyone”. We have talked a lot about working on design systems as part of our coffee discourses over the past few months and feel that their importance in the world cannot be understated. We’ve realized that design systems are an opportunity for people to ensure that the products we create take into consideration the diverse range of people that make up the vast audiences that may use them – such as people with temporary or permanent disability, and people who speak different languages or use different devices.

Leading up to the event I was definitely nervous, having had most of my experience being a speaker, and very little experience organizing an event. I decided to take on a very passive role, being behind the scenes ensuring that everything went smoothly, and that the speakers who had worked so hard to produce a talk of value for so many people, had everything they needed to present their best work. I quickly realized this experience is very different to that of a speaker’s. You’re just as nervous except instead of for yourself, you’re nervous for your speakers and for your attendees.

A very special thanks to Tiffany Yu who MC-ed the event, introducing Product Of SFO, thanking Mozilla for providing the food, drinks and venue, as well as introducing each of the speakers. She did an amazing job, far better than anything that I could have done myself. And to Tom Medhurst, who took care of crafting absolutely amazing slides for the event and each of the speakers, being on top of the schedule at all times ensuring that everything felt exactly as a Product Of event should.

Michael McCombie who also helped assist me in organizing the event, spoke about some of the exciting work that he has been doing at Mozilla on their design systems. He spoke with confidence, intrigue and from a place of knowledge and understanding. Michael discussed the ways in which he incorporates color into his approach to building a design system that is effective despite the platform or device in which it is running on. He showed examples of some of the techniques that Mozilla has used such as Design Tokens and Sketch Plugins to make this process as seamless as possible.

Jennifer Hom spoke about her work at Airbnb on illustration and how cultural norms and expectations have influenced her work throughout her career. She showed relevant examples such as illustrations of people in which skin color, clothing and hair styles have influenced the ways in which people have interacted with a digital product. Jennifer is clearly a confident speaker and her confident and proud presence at the event was paramount to her experience and expertise in the work that she does.

John Cassidy went in depth on the work that he has done ensuring that the design systems that he has worked on put the needs of all users first. Not just specifically individuals who have permanent disability, but also those who may be temporarily disabled including Mothers pushing prams, or momentarily blind users. He discussed the ways that these scenarios effect our ability to interact in certain environments, and provided clear ways for us to combat these issues when formulating design systems.

Following on from the somewhat successful event, bar a few minor hiccups, we decided to take advantage of the magnificent venue that Mozilla provided and moved the party to the rooftop, where we shared some wine and overlooked the sunset over the Bay Bridge.

I feel as though my friends and I have been successful not just in organizing and hosting a great event as part of SF Design Week, but we’ve cultivated a strong, intimate, friendly and welcoming design community here in San Francisco. I think the best of what this community has to offer is only just beginning and we’ve got a lot of big and exciting things ahead of us.

Thank you to everyone who has been a part of bringing this community to life.